“He is not good at math.” Or as Carol Dweck would say, “He’s not good at math yet.” There is a world of difference. In the first senstence it is already almost a final conclusion. He has tried everything and now we can conclude that he is not good at math. At least in Carol Dweck’s case it is still an optimistic observation. He could still become good at math.
We can then look for causes. We can find them undoubtedly in brains, genes, and, of course, also in the environment. And no doubt we will find causes. With dyslexia scientists also found something. Apparently a cause. People with dyslexia have less gray matter in the brains. Grey matter has the function to process information. That might mean that there is a biological cause for dyslexia. For learning this conclusion has a lot of consequences. Does it make sense to practice a lot if you know that your brains are differently than those without dyslexia? Just ask someone with dyslexia. They often think that dyslexia is an ongoing situation which you can improve a little but not much. For motivation to really practice this biological cause almost seems deadly. The “not yet” of Carol Dweck is skillfully demolished with such a cause.
There are a lot of fallacies in this “gray matter” observation. The first is that what seems a cause according to recent research sometimes may actually be an effect:
“Many dyslexics were not born with less gray matter, according to a surprising recent study. Dyslexics’ grey matter may have developed less because they read less.”
That could very well apply to many more things. He is not so good in … because he has less time spent on it. Or because he has practiced less smart. The cause might be in cognitive history of the student.
Moreover, says behavioral scientist and psychologist Hasselman in a recent interview, there could be many causes and scientists really should not be searching for a unique cause. He sees the following possible explanations for dyslexia:
‘The mothertongue. In Finland and Italy the spoken and written word is almost identical and thus dyslexia is rare. Education also plays a role, we think. There are teachers who have never had a dyslexic child in the classroom. This suggests that a certain approach to reading instruction occurs where dyslexia is not developing. A systematic approach to understanding how dyslexia occurs, would go to grammar, language training, social conditions, genetic factors, hearing problems and brain defects. And how factors reinforce or weaken each other. ”
Well, cause or effect.
For education it almost seems like a moral choice to expose the factors we can influence. For learning it is important to emphasize the cognitive history of the student as a cause of success or failure. I do not think we need causes in education that explain why there is no success. We need to break through barriers.